CHILE-ARGENTINA BORDER - Canada's BARRICK GOLD has stepped up efforts to promote its Pascua-Lama gold project in Chile's Region III with an advertising slot on the national television network TVN.
"It's an institutional advertisement that appeared for the first time last night [May 16]. It's part of the information campaign we began a few weeks ago," said Barrick local communications director Rodrigo Jimnez.
The short piece shows Region III's fertile valleys and links the area's economic development with Pascua-Lama, which straddles the Chile-Argentine border at an altitude of over 5,000 m in the Andes Mountains. The ad follows Barrick's recent announcement that it would set up a regional sustainable development fund to invest US$10 million over 20 years in Region III if Pascua-Lama, currently in the environmental permit process, is approved.
Concerns about the environmental impact of the development are fuelled by Barrick's plan to transfer a portion of three glaciers 2 km south to another glacier to make way for the open pit.
"Previously glaciers have been moved in much colder places. This is the first time that this has been done at these temperatures and latitudes," pointed out Rodrigo Pizarro, an executive director of a local non-governmental organization. The lack of experience in moving glaciers should lead authorities to adopt the "precautionary principle" and reject Pascua-Lama, especially given its potential impact on local water resources, he argued. Pizarro said the project brings no direct benefits to locals in Region III and disqualified the US$10 million fund as "peanuts" given the potential revenue generated by the mine. He also criticized the lack of control that communities hold over decisions about local land use. Farmers in region III's Huasco valley are developing olive groves as part of Chile's emerging olive oil sector.
Barrick says the amount of ice being moved represents less than 1% of total ice-melt running into the Region III river basin. The company plans to submit a detailed glacial management report by the end of the second quarter 2005.
Barrick has a policy of employing locals both in the construction and operational phase of projects, according to Jimnez. Some 98% of employees at the company's operations in Peru and 96% of those constructing the Veladero gold mine in Argentina are local.
"We are developing programs in conjunction with local institutions to train the workforce in both Argentina and Chile," said Jimnez. A basic skills course has already kicked off in Region III to help locals apply for jobs industry-wide.
Barrick hopes to receive environmental approval for Pascua-Lama from Chilean and Argentine authorities by year-end for construction to start 2006.